MIT’s Robotic Cheetah is Getting Even Scarier

Robotic Cheetah get's upgraded bounding algorithm

Researchers over at MIT are hard at work upgrading their Robotic Cheetah. They are developing an algorithm for bounding movement, after researching how real cheetahs run in the wild.

Mach 2 is fully electric and battery-powered, can currently run at speeds of 10MPH (however they’re predicting it will be able to reach 30MPH in the future), and can even jump over obstacles 33cm tall.

We originally saw the first robotic Cheetah from Boston Dynamics in cooperation with DARPA two years ago — it could run faster than any human alive (28.3MPH) but in its tests it was tethered to its hydraulic power pack and running on a treadmill. It’s unclear if MIT’s Cheetah is a direct descendant from that one, but they are both supported by DARPA.

The technology in this project is nothing short of amazing — its electric motors are actually a custom part designed by one of the professors of Electrical Engineering at MIT, [Jeffrey Lang]. In order for the robot to run smoothly, its bounding algorithm is sending commands to each leg to exert a very precise amount of force during each footstep, just to ensure it maintains the set speed.

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Hacking a Pogoplug into a $20 PBX

Pogoplug Series 4 Backup Device

The Pogoplug Series 4 is a little network attached device that makes your external drives accessible remotely. Under the hood of this device is an ARM processor running at 800 MHz, which is supported by the Linux kernel. If you’re looking to build your own PBX on the cheap, [Ward] runs us through the process. Since the Pogoplug 4 is currently available for about $20, it’s a cheap way to play with telephony.

Step one is to convert the Pogoplug to Debian, which mostly requires following instructions carefully. After the Pogoplug is booting Debian, the Incredible PBX bundle can be installed. We’ve seen this bundle running on a Raspberry Pi in the past. Incredible PBX’s preconfigured setup based on Asterisk and FreePBX gives a ton of functionality out of the box.

With your $20 PBX running, there’s a lot that can be done. Google’s Voice service allows unlimited free calling to the USA and Canada. With Internet connectivity, you get email notifications for voicemails, and can query WolframAlpha by voice.

The Hackaday Prize Semifinalist Update

There are only a few more days until The Hackaday Prize semifinalists need to get everything ready for the great culling of really awesome projects by our fabulous team of judges. Here are a few projects that were updated recently, but for all the updates you can check out all the entries hustling to get everything done in time.


Replacing really, really small parts

accThe NoteOn smartpen is a computer that fits inside a pen. Obviously, there are size limitations [Nick Ames] is dealing with, and when a component goes bad, that means board rework in some very cramped spaces. The latest problem was a defective accelerometer.

In a normal project, a little hot air and a pair of tweezers would be enough to remove the defective part and replace it. This is not the case with this smart pen. It’s a crowded layout, and 0402 resistors can easily disappear in a large solder glob.

[Nick] wrapped the closest parts to the defective accelerometer in Kapton tape. That seemed to be enough to shield it from his Aoyue 850 hot air gun. The new part was pre-tinned and placed back on the board with low air flow.

How to build a spectrometer

spec

The RamanPi Spectrometer is seeing a lot of development. The 3D printed optics mount (think about that for a second) took somewhere between 12 and 18 hours to print. Once that was done and the parts were cleaned up, the mirrors, diffraction grating, and linear CCD were mounted in the enclosure. Judging from the output of the linear CCD, [fl@C@] is getting some good data with just this simple setup.

Curing resin and building PCBs

uv[Mario], the guy behind OpenExposer, the combination SLA printer, PCB exposer, and laser harp is chugging right along. He finished his first test print with a tilted bed and he has a few ideas on how to expose PCBs on his machine.

You don’t need props to test a quadcopter

bladesGoliath, the gas-powered quadcopter, had a few problems earlier this month. During its first hover test a blade caught a belt and bad things happened. [Peter] is testing out a belt guard and tensioner only this time he’s using plywood cutouts instead of custom fiberglass blades. Those blades are a work of art all by themselves and take a long time to make; far too much effort went into them to break in a simple motor test.

Low Cost Lab Frequency Reference

The internals of a home built 10 MHz frequency reference.

[Mark] wanted an accurate frequency reference for his electronics lab. He specified some requirements for the project, including portability, ability to work inside a building, and low cost. That ruled out GPS, cesium standard clocks, rubidium standard clocks, and left him looking for a low cost Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator (OCXO).

The Low Cost 10 MHz Frequency Reference is based around a Morion OCXO. These Russian oscillators are available from eBay second hand at about $40 a pop. With a stability well within the requirements, [Mark] order a few.

The next step was to stick all the components in a box. The two OCXOs in the box need about 3 amps to heat up, which is provided by a 12 V PSU. For portability, a sealed lead acid battery was added. The front panel shows the supply voltages, switches between mains and battery supplies, and provides connectivity to the OCXOs.

Since OCXOs work by heating a crystal to a specific temperature, they can use quite a bit of power in the heating element. To increase battery life, a neoprene foam insulator was wrapped around the OCXOs.

For less than $100, this portable tool will aid in calibrating equipment or creating very accurate clocks.

Afroman Demonstrates Boost Converters

boosIf you need to regulate your power input down to a reasonable voltage for a project, you reach for a switching regulator, or failing that, an inefficient linear regulator. What if you need to boost the voltage inside a project? It’s boost converter time, and Afrotechmods is here to show you how they work.

In its simplest form, a boost converter can be built from only an inductor, a diode, a capacitor, and a transistor. By switching the transistor on and off with varying duty cycles, energy is stored in the inductor, and then sent straight to the capacitor. Calculating the values for the duty cycle, frequency, inductor, and the other various parts of a boost converter means a whole bunch of math, but following the recommended layout in the datasheets for boost and switching converters is generally good enough.

boostconverter

[Afroman]‘s example circuit for this tutorial is a simple boost converter built around an LT1370 switching regulator. In addition to that there’s also a small regulator, diode, a few big caps and resistors, and a pot for the feedback pin. This is all you need to build a simple boost converter, and the pot tied to the feedback pin varies the duty cycle of the regulator, changing the output voltage.

It’s an extremely efficient way to boost voltage, measured by [Afroman] at over 80%. It’s also exceptionally easy to build, with just a handful of parts soldered directly onto a piece of perfboard.

Video below.

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30 Years later TED finds his voice: A Commodore Story Part II

Commodore v364, a speech powered computer from the 1980s.

[Continued from 30 Years later TED finds his voice: A Commodore Story Part I]

Like parents standing on the porch waiting to see their children off to their first day of school we waited for what comes next in a release to production. Among our children: The C116 ($49 Sinclair killer), the C264 ($79 office computer), and the V364 – The computer with an interactive desktop that could speak (courtesy of [John Fegans] who gave us the lion’s share of what made the C64 software great).

Something happened then, and by something I mean nothing. Nothing happened. We waited to assist in production builds and stood ready to make engineering change notices, and yet nothing happened. It was around this time that [Mr. Jack Tramiel] had left the company, I know why he left but I can’t tell due to a promise I made. Sadly, without [Tramiel's] vision and direction the new product releases pretty much stopped.

What happens when Marketing tries to design a computer: a TED in a C64 case known as a C16

What happens when Marketing tries to design a computer: a TED in a C64 case known as a C16.

Meanwhile in Marketing, someone came up with the idea to make the C264 more expensive so that they could then sell it for a prohibitively high price in. They changed the name, they told us to add chips, and they added software that (at best) wasn’t of interest to the users at that price. They wanted another C64, after all it had previously been the source of some success. Meanwhile the C116 and the V364 prototypes slowly melded into the random storage of a busy R&D lab. We literally didn’t notice what had happened; we were too busy arguing against abominations such as the C16 — a “creation” brought about by a shoving a TED board into a C64 case (the term inbred came to mind at the time).

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The Queercon 11 Badge

The badge from Queercon 11 at Defcon

DEFCON is known for its unique badge designs, which have featured displays, radios, and tons of LEDs in the past. This year, there was another digital badge at DEFCON. The Queercon 11 badge featured an MSP430, a LED display, an IR interface, and an ISM band radio.

Queercon started off as a DEFCON party for LGBT hackers. Over the past eleven years they’ve run events at DEFCON including parties, mixers, and networking events. Over time the group has grown, become a non-profit, and provided a social network for LGBT people in tech. We must admit that they throw quite a good pool party.

This badge gave you points for meeting other people. When held near another QC11 badge, the IR link sends the identifier for each person. Both badges light up and display the other person’s name, and store the event. This process became known by a variety of colloquialisms, and “badginal intercourse” was a common occurrence at events.

The reader for Queercon 11 badges

The QC11 Badge Reader

The RF radio, implemented using a HopeRF RF69 module, shows how many people with QC11 badges are near you. A base station at events sends out data to give badges points for attendance. As points are accumulated, the rainbow LEDs on either side of the display light up.

At Queercon parties, a reader connected to a dumb terminal read data off the badges. It then shows who the badge has paired with, and what events its been to.

The hardware design and source code have all been released on the Queercon website. The full functionality is discussed in the README.

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